Island states, such as the Maldives, are already making ambitious changes to adapt to rising sea levels. With a global resolve to implement such solutions, it could be possible to tackle the climate impasse.
|A girl walks at a beach damaged by erosion at Fuvahmulah in the Maldives. The island chain, that sits just a metre above sea level, is working to build resilience into its coastal infrastructure. Photograph: Reinhard Krause/Reuters|
The news is particularly troubling for my country, the Maldives — the world’s lowest lying island chain — and for other coastal and island nations that sit just metres above sea level.
In fact, saltwater has already begun to contaminate our groundwater supplies, while erosion is wearing away our shores.
And even as the water rises around us, the cruel irony of climate change was driven home last month when a fire shut down our capital island’s only desalination plant, leaving its 100,000 inhabitants in a precarious situation.
Within hours, some of our closest neighbours and partners, including India, Sri Lanka and China, had mobilised shipments of water to get us through until the plant was repaired. Our own private sector, non-governmental organisations, and other civil society groups pitched in, working with the government, and proving that everyone in the society has a role to play in addressing crises.
Tackling climate change over the long term will obviously demand concerted action at a much more substantial scale over decades.
But we should not surrender to the notion that it will be impossible. Recent studies have confirmed that existing technologies, such as energy efficiency, renewable power, and smart policies can rapidly reduce emissions, while bringing important co-benefits, such as improved public health and energy and water security.
However, to be successful, we must rapidly accelerate the implementation of these proven solutions and many others. The next opportunity comes in early February in Geneva, where countries will convene to make progress towards signing a much-anticipated international climate treaty in Paris at the end of the year.
It also happens to be my country’s first UN climate meeting as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of coastal and island nations that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Maldives was one of the founding members of the group in 1990, when we formed in response to mounting evidence that human activities were pushing up the Earth’s temperature — and sea levels along with it.
During the intervening years, the science of climate change has become incontrovertible and its impacts ever more severe.
But we have also seen solutions to the crisis proliferate and, importantly, become very cost effective, making their use more attractive than ever before.
These developments are perfect opportunities to converge the interests of individual countries and common humanity.
Indeed, the time is ripe to resolve the climate impasse and shift to the implementation of solutions across many economic sectors. Renewable energy, for example, can be cheaper than oil, coal, and natural gas in many markets, even without considering fossil fuels’ numerous negative social impacts.
This is certainly true for small island nations like the Maldives that are forced to spend a significant portion of annual budgets on energy imports. In fact, we have developed a five-year initiative to install solar panels capable of providing 20-30MW of energy to our capital, simultaneously slashing our emissions and freeing up millions of dollars for other priorities.
At the same time, projects are underway to build resilience in our coastal infrastructure, like flood-proofing waste management systems and protecting critical seaside vegetation.
Many other island states around the world have adopted ambitious emissions reduction targets and are building their renewable energy capacity every day – proving that development does not have to come at the cost of the environment.
The Geneva meeting is only one in a series of opportunities this year where the global community can take concrete action, so that 2015 is remembered not for stories about sea level rise but ones about how we rose up together to stop it.